Friday, August 14, 2009


Bandslam is a clichéd, hackneyed, overdone, montage-filled paint-by-numbers tale of teenage angst, love, lessons about life, and triumph.

And yet it's still better than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. As unoriginal, and at times truly awful, this film is, it's also got a little spark which provides moments better than they have any right to be. In no uncertain terms Bandslam is a trainwreck, but it's a trainwreck with cute young girls, some spirit, and passable music.

It's exactly what you expect a teen musical, made in part by Walden Media, to be.

The story centers on your typical geeky-loser-teen Will Burton (Gaelan Connell). Will's an all-around good guy, if only someone would stop and notice. Without describing anything else about the film, I bet you can see where this is going. So could I.

Will and his over-attentive mother (Lisa Kudrow) move to a new town to start anew. At his new school, Will uses his encyclopedic music knowledge and good-guy qualities to earn the attention of two young hotties: the former head cheerleader Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) who wants Will to manage her band, and cute loner Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens), who needs Will's help with a school assignment.

Of course Will falls immediately for the older Charlotte, but (and I trust I'm not giving away too much here) soon finds he has more in common with Sa5m (the 5 is silent). As love triangles go, this one is pretty damn tame, though the friendship that develops between Charlotte and Will comes off well. That is, until that part of the plot is derailed by a late plot-twist (which itself is smoothed over in record time for the big finale).

Using his musical acumen, Will transforms the three-man garage band of Charlotte, Bug (Charlie Saxton), and Omar (Tim Jo) into a title contender for Bandslam, a national band competition, by adding elements from around the school such as a pianist (Lisa Chung), cellist (Elvy Yost), and horn section. All of this is done, as you'd expect, through the magic of musical montage. The new improved band - re-branded as I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On - can now stand toe-to-toe with the school's other entry into the contest, which just happens to be led by Charlotte's former beau (Scott Porter).

The script gives us the greatest hits of teen comedy: the secret lie, the first kiss, disappointment, lessons learned, humiliation, and ultimately triumph in the face of adversity. Oh, and I forgot, it also gives us Judd Nelson's character from The Breakfast Club (or reasonable facsimile).There's nothing all that memorable, or sometimes even good, about how the film handles these themes. Even with a simple score, the movie still struggles to hit the beat(s) and too often, its chords fall flat.

Connell's Will is your average good teen who bad things keep happening to but he survives. Even his deep dark secret only makes him come off nobler in the end. Despite my problems with the character, I will give the film's producers credit for casting a nerdy-looking leading man in the role rather than simply throwing a pair of glasses on someone like Zac Efron.

Vanessa Hudgens, in the news again for her lack of clothing (not that there's anything wrong with that), works her natural cuteness here to give Sa5m some heart. (Note: she should always wear hats.) However, I was more impressed with Michalka, who proves she is up for both the dramatic and humorous scenes, and has a voice tailor-made for this type of film.

Other than a not-too-startling lack of originality, there's nothing objectionable about Bandslam. As a family film, you could do far better, but tweens should enjoy themselves and parents probably won't nod off. And it's the type of flick, given its PG rating, which will no doubt have a long life on cable (which is probably where it belongs).

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